The diversity of Utah’s digital media industry cluster was on display when a wide range of students, game developers, educators, government leaders, and industry veterans attended the PushButton Summit hosted by Grow Utah Ventures Oct. 13-14. Participants attended sessions on topics ranging from virtual production, to opportunities “in the cloud,” to funding. Admission also included entrance into The Leonardo and the Gaming & Electronics Expo (GEEX).
More than 400 people attended the second annual event, which kicked off with a reception at the newly opened Leonardo museum. Participants networked and browsed the museum’s technology and digital media exhibits, and visited displays from Utah’s leading digital media universities and colleges. The reception also included the Utah Digital Media Leader Award ceremony. The winners of the award were Chair Entertainment founders Geremy and Donald Mustard, who stressed the influence of teachers on their path from students to major game developers.
University of Utah USTAR Professor Craig Caldwell moderated a session exploring how online communities drive game design and content delivery strategies. Multi-user online games have led to the formation of huge numbers of online communities, and leading companies Sony Online Entertainment Studios and Smart Bomb Interactive shared insights on what that means from both the customer and business standpoints.
USTAR Technology Outreach Director Alex Lawrence joined a panel discussion on funding for digital media companies following a key note speech by VentureBlue Capital’s Robb Kunz. Lawrence, a serial entrepreneur, gave advice on making sure your proposed product or service has a customer before committing development resources. He also stressed the need to invest in having your company, partnership, accounting and equity set up correctly by professionals in the early going. Kunz covered traditional and up-and-coming funding strategies and the benefits and challenges of both.
Other popular topics included:
· Capitalizing on Mobile Technologies
· Virtual Production - “Shooting” CG stories as live action
· Digital Media's Use of the Cloud
· Melding Analytics and Creativity
Students were excited to learn from the industry experts and left the conference encouraged and excited to try out their own ideas. "Talking with Jon Dean [VP/Executive Producer at Electronic Arts] really helped me to see some different ways to approach my goal of becoming a producer," said Brandon Karratti, University of Utah Entertainment Arts & Engineering student. "It was amazing to speak with him about the potential for growth in this business, and to know that our faculty is honing our skills to truly make a splash in the industry."
After meeting at the Summit, Karratti and other students are working with Dean and other local professionals to put on another public event at the University of Utah.
“It was really exciting to get such a variety of career levels in the same space and to see the Summit as a starting point for continued collaboration,” said Steve Roy, Associate Vice President for economic development, Utah Valley University, and USTAR Central Utah Director.